In 2005, at a conference on diversifying the science and engineering workforce, Harvard president Larry Summers proffered three potential explanations for why women were underrepresented as professors in the highest science and engineering positions:
- High-powered job hypothesis (i.e., women were distracted by family obligations)
- Different availability of aptitude at the high end (test results showed that men tended to have both the highest and the lowest scores)
- Different socialization and patterns of discrimination in the search and placement
In his conclusion, Summers explicitly attempted to provoke further discussion by suggesting that different aptitude was the dominant cause, saying he would like nothing better than to be proved wrong.
But, instead of proving Summers wrong, the politically-correct police charged him with sexism and careless scholarship. After a year-long trial in the media, Summers was forced to resign as president of Harvard. And when his name was floated as a potential Secretary of the Treasury under President Obama, this brouhaha was used to sink his prospects.
I thought of Larry Summers today when I read an article in fivethirtyeight.com about six American boys winning the International Math Olympiad. The article pointed out that boys have dominated not only the American team but also teams from other countries ever since we joined the competition in 1974. Eighty-eight percent of the six-person American teams have been entirely boys, and the teams from other countries average 0.5 girls per six-person team.
Joe Klein once defined politically incorrect as a statement that is true, but not proper to be uttered in public. The lynching of Larry Summers seems to be an excellent example of the politically-correct police on steroids. Or, as Summers said, I would love to be proved wrong.